Napoleon created a new form of government in France, reshaped the boundaries of Europe, and influenced revolutionaries and nationalists the world over. Since his first days in power he aroused controversies that continue today. Was he a true son of the Enlightenment who modernized French government and brought the message of equality under the law wherever he went? Or was he an authoritarian military dictator who fought incessant wars and conquered territory in order to maintain his egomaniacal grip on power? There is abundant evidence for both views. The evidence is presented here under three main headings: domestic policies; foreign policies and wars; and his legacy.
The Napoleonic wars were a mere continuation of those of the revolutionary era with regards to tactics, organization and weaponry. Bonaparte inherited these elements as well as a professional French officer corps, seasoned and trained veterans and new rules for the recruitment of rank and file from the revolutionary wars. Most of the reforms that were used to such great effect under Napoleon's generalship had actually been introduced at the end of the old regime in France. It was the Republican armies under the guidance of Generals Kellerman, Jourdan, Moreau and others that refined the infantry tactics of Guibert and the artillery reforms of Gribeauval and the Du Teil brothers that dominated the Revolutionary and Napoleonic epochs.
Napoleon was also responsible for the introduction of a new corps d' elite, the Imperial Guard. This formation provided Napoleon with a strong reserve of elite troops always at his immediate disposal and ready to be committed at the decisive point and moment. Although these changes were instrumental in the success of the French armies under Napoleon they were in no way revolutionary. Napoleon merely streamlined the system to achieve a higher degree of proficiency.
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